Whistling language of La Gomera


#1

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#2

How well would it compare with whistled Morse code? Different encoding, packing symbols as on/off patterns of a single frequency instead of multifrequency carrier so likely slower, but better known outside that one tribe and adaptable to light and other on/off keyable media too.


#3

Pffff. I’ll wait for a fork of the language that offers end-to-end encryption.


#4

Try Finnish.


#5

R2-D2 knows all about whistling to communicate.


#6

It’s not a code for encoding a language – Silbo Gomero is a language, with a grammar and vocabulary.


#7

Uh, it doesn’t just require teeth and lungs, it requires the ability to whistle, and to hear whistling, and to control, and perceive pitch.


#8

The video shows at the end a way to whistle English. Apparently the whistling paraphrases the phonetics of the spoken language, so acts as a form of encoding. Apparently there are more whistled languages based on the same principle. (Just guessing here, I do not specialize in linguistics.)

We can consider language itself as a form of encoding for the stored/transferred information, with symbols for abstract and concrete concepts/objects and their relations, and so on…


#9

Like most whistled (or drummed) registers of a language, it’s a code, not a separate language. It reduces all consonants to four separate classes (although there are apparently ways to differentiate voiced and unvoiced consonants, which makes it eight classes), and all vowels to two to four classes. I don’t actually know any Silbo, but it would be as if I said "okay, all stops are going to be represented by K, all front vowels by I, all back vowels by A, all rounded vowels with U, all aspirates with S, all liquids and nasals with N. Now, “KIS NI NU SUN,” would be “kiss me, you fool” It could also be other things, like “pass me low foam,” but context would help disambiguate it a lot.


#10

I think the tom-tom drum encodings work in a similar way.


#11

Yup, although – and this is from memory – they encode tonal languages, so often they just contain the tonal contours of the words and context is left to supply the rest. I think there are also set phrases for particular words, so that their tonal contours will be more clearly distinguishable. So if “river” has the tonal contour LL (I’m just making it up, since I don’t know the relevant languages), the set phrase might be something like “the river that flows by the tree under the mountain” which might have a tonal contour like LLHLHHLLH, which then just becomes the word “river” in the drum language.

Humans are really good at finding ways to communicate. It always kind of delights me.


#12

English has at least 10-12 vowels, and dozens and dozens of consonants. There are hundreds of possible syllables, and so we can have plenty of short little words with minimum ambiguity.

Japanese has only 45 basic morae, and maybe 100 or so possible syllables. Because of that, there are lots of homophones, context is very important, and there are also a lot more six-syllable words.

Hawaiian has even fewer sounds, and it seems as if Silbo has fewer still. I wonder how they manage the problem of information density? I didn’t hear any long, complex words, so I would assume much of the meaning is understood from context.


#13

By the way, has anyone else tripped over those lists of English words which are supposed to have the same vowel in any given English dialect? How can cure have the same vowel as poor?


#14

I wonder if, in case of too long sequences of L or H symbols that could get confusing, a different encoding is used. Kind of like the eight-to-fourteen modulation used on compact disks, or similar encodings used wherever the clock signal could drift too far if there was no state change for too long?

Did anybody make a comparison of human languages and electronic comm/storage formats?


#15

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